Singapore in Transition by Han Fook Kwang (Part 2)

Society

This will never happen in Singapore. The state of cleanliness is troubling. Taiwanese people carry their trash with them. People were very hospitable when I visited. They do not wait for the government to solve their problems. They solve them. This is known as social capital. Singapore often pulls people apart. We need people to work together.

Maid industry needs a cleanup. Removing levy scheme and including amount under minimum wage a win-win deal for all. There has been increasing demand for domestic workers in recent years. Quality has suffered. Singapore also uses the levy system. Agencies have to look for low quality, lower cost maids. Most of them have rural backgrounds. HK has a minimum wage for them. It could be a win-win for employers. The Indonesian and Philippine government should establish a common maid agency.

The dirty truth about Singapore. Singaporeans’ poor social graces a result of a weak sense of community. Singaporeans seldom recycle goods. The service quality in Taiwanese restaurants was better than Singapore’s. The staff were polite and enthusiastic. Japanese have courteous behavior and are public-spirited. We, as a society, certainly have work to be done. There needs to be a strong sense of community and identity among the people. We need to look out for one another. Forging strong bonds requires hard work and effort. It isn’t easy to build a civic society.

To get our politics right, get the people sector right. This is where values needed to work together for larger good are cultivated. The author feels that the economy is not as strong as before. He feels that in areas like volunteerism, donations to charities, Singapore is sorely lacking. We do not do our best to help our fellow citizen. A free market society tends to reward the individual more than the community. There is a need to develop the people sector. Civil society is more vibrant than ever before. Singapore is at a turning point.

A world apart and invisible? Beyond their economic contributions, there’s little interest in what foreign works do, how they cope. Dec 8 was the Little India riots. Many Singaporeans hate dormitories with foreign workers. Maybe the foreign workers are transient too and do not want to interact with Singaporeans. Singaporeans need to reach out to them more. Most of them are not illiterate and not extremely poorly educated. Many workers take a year to repay their loans to get to Singapore via agent. Often, some employers do not pay employees on time. The good thing is that foreign workers are protected by the Employment Act. Singaporeans need to change our attitudes towards them.

How to be a smart city (technology not included). People’s actions matter more in making city a better place to live in. There is a new Smart Nation Programme Office. It’s about using technology to enhance performance. Singapore can emulate these 3 places in the world. In Singapore, you just have to throw rubbish down your rubbish chute, where it is much easier. We could use different coloured bins for disposal of different type of rubbish. Have bicycle lanes for cycling. There are many areas where Singapore can work in.

Don’t let hawker fare disappear. The odds are stacked against hawkers – the hours are long, prices of ingredients are high and the public won’t pay more. The food is cheap and you can’t find these sort of prices worldwide. Hawker food is uniquely Singapore. However, it might be a dying trend. Their wages are low and it is tedious work. The government should try to rejuvenate the business and encourage more to take up hawker fare.

Transport

Why I am Still Writing on Transport. Mr Sim Kee Boon believed that we could solve any problem if we focused hard. Issues like car population, encouraging people to take public transport still exists. Should Singapore transport system follow HK? Here, we use government Iinked corporations. COE definitely helped, but car prices fluctuate a lot nowadays. The government also has control over how it works.

Should transport system go the HK way? There is greater competition, which spurs innovation, but less order and control. We have strong central planning capabilities, which are good. Many foreigners have praised our transport system. HK also runs the place well. People in HK are even more reliant on public transport than anything else. Competition is fierce among the different transport providers in HK. There is a sole train player, MTR Corporation. There is less restructuring of bus routes vs MTR in HK. Singapore prefers to have fewer players in the market.

Car ownership scheme should be better managed. No policy should result in arbitrary price movements with no relation to economy. In order to raise COE prices, government can reduce the supply of COEs and lower ownership taxes. They can also relax the lending requirements for owning a car. The government often defends themselves by saying that market prices dictate the price of the COE. The COE market isn’t a free market as it artificially controlled. The government reduced supply of COEs too drastically, that caused an issue. In major cities, many people do not drive and take public transport. Examples include cities like Tokyo, London, New York etc.

Taxi woes and the ghost of 1985. Why that is with so many taxis on the road, taxi queues are often very long. The government decided to raise taxi fares. However, the public stopped using their services and demand fell. Later on, they let the taxi companies regulate their own fares. Taxi demand can be unpredictable. Fees must be able to be set sufficiently so that taxi drivers can make a decent living.

The road to new model of public transport. Singapore’s public transport was overhauled. Is a two company operator model bad? LTA needs to be a strong regulator and planner and understand transport requirements. They will also need to understand our bus operators. There is now the progressive wage model. How much subsidy should the government give bus companies to operate?

Shrinking pool of engineer poses national risk. Are our engineers competent enough? We need to have top-notch engineers. Many top students choose not to take engineering. Now, government is making changes to career development of engineers. There needs to be a steady stream of fresh recruits. We are not known to be an engineering powerhouse. NUS and Keppel Corp are developing cutting edge research facilities. Buying the technology from overseas is one thing, but we still need to maintain them at home.

Satellite-based ERP: Great technology but what’s the policy? This will happen in 2020. The more you use the roads, the more you will have to pay. However, this system doesn’t cost cheap. What is our policy going to be? Shouldn’t policies be settled before you call tender on this new technology? Shouldn’t there be more debate on such important matters?

Odds and Ends – Why I write. These are articles with no one theme. I often comment on public issues. I often like receiving alternative viewpoints on issues. Writing can force readers to think more deeply on pressing national issues, which I think is healthy.

Singtel vs Starhub: It gets curiouser and curiouser. There is huge competition between the two in pay-TV. However, there is no common box for the 2 telcos yet. This is a big problem. Singtel, in the past, won the rights to broadcast the BPL. This incurred the wrath of Starhub and consumers were forced to absorb the higher cost. Everyone ends up paying more in the end. Perhaps, they should devote more time into developing their own content.

Insurers should treat customers better. If they can’t explain premium increases and policy changes plainly, they need closer regulation. I had to play twice the premiums suddenly for virtually the same coverage. Insurance companies can just raise premiums as and when they like. There should be some degree of stability in the premiums to be paid. Those with no claims should be allowed to pay less also. There needs to be minimum standards of transparency and disclosure necessary.

Doctors v Doctors. Action must be taken to curb overcharging and ensure industry is in the pink of health. Surgery rates in the private hospitals are increasing at exponential rates. The Government has abolished guidelines on professional fees. Medical insurance has led to escalating costs. Measures should be put in place to control these costs. Wealthy foreigners also come to Singapore to receive health treatments, and this results in inflated costs. Most doctors are not motivated by money, but by a higher calling. The Singapore Medical Council needs to look more into such cases. Doctors still need to meet ethical and professional standards.

Build a winning football team…and national spirit. Make a strong commitment to take care of careers and lives of those selected for national duty. To be successful, we need a great domestic league and a system to identify talented individuals. Average S league attendances have not been good. The game is also dominated by Malays. Many parents feel a football career is too short. Our football budget is not high enough. As a result, some of our talented youngsters go overseas. Football is important as it is great for the nation to bond.

Set aside places in top schools for needy, bright children. There is the Straits Times pocket money fund. Is there a link between poverty and poor grades? Obviously if you have to worry about things at home, you will have less energy to focus on your studies. However, giving these kids pocket money can go a long way for them to take part in more school activities. Poverty has been shown to produce stress/anxiety, resulting in people’s worse decision making abilities. However, more still can be done.

There’s a haze twin that is more dangerous. Finding solutions harder in haze of ignorance and misinformation. Singapore has been trying to pinpoint which are the companies who have been polluting. Haze is taking its toll on public health. In Indonesia, the situation is of course much worse and babies have died because of the haze.

To improve education, go beyond the classroom. Instead, focus on aspects which impact community and society. In Japan, students have to bring their tablecloth, collect their food, scrub the floor and clean their own toilets. Through this, they learn to care for their environment. What happens outside the classrooms are also important. The Japanese people are known for their civic consciousness and social responsibility. Many students overseas also do part-time work in addition to studying.

Singapore In Transition

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